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| Home | Reading Room PETER PAN

[James Matthew Barrie]

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Chapter 15


Odd things happen to all of us on our way through life without

our noticing for a time that they have happened. Thus, to take

an instance, we suddenly discover that we have been deaf in one

ear for we don't know how long, but, say, half an hour. Now such

an experience had come that night to Peter. When last we saw him

he was stealing across the island with one finger to his lips and

his dagger at the ready. He had seen the crocodile pass by

without noticing anything peculiar about it, but by and by he

remembered that it had not been ticking. At first he thought

this eerie, but soon concluded rightly that the clock had run down.

Without giving a thought to what might be the feelings of a

fellow-creature thus abruptly deprived of its closest companion,

Peter began to consider how he could turn the catastrophe to his

own use; and he decided to tick, so that wild beasts should

believe he was the crocodile and let him pass unmolested. He

ticked superbly, but with one unforeseen result. The crocodile

was among those who heard the sound, and it followed him, though

whether with the purpose of regaining what it had lost, or

merely as a friend under the belief that it was again ticking

itself, will never be certainly known, for, like slaves to a

fixed idea, it was a stupid beast.

Peter reached the shore without mishap, and went straight on,

his legs encountering the water as if quite unaware that they had

entered a new element. Thus many animals pass from land to

water, but no other human of whom I know. As he swam he had but

one thought: "Hook or me this time." He had ticked so long that

he now went on ticking without knowing that he was doing it. Had

he known he would have stopped, for to board the brig by help of

the tick, though an ingenious idea, had not occurred to him.

On the contrary, he thought he had scaled her side as noiseless

as a mouse; and he was amazed to see the pirates cowering from

him, with Hook in their midst as abject as if he had heard the


The crocodile! No sooner did Peter remember it than he heard

the ticking. At first the thought the sound did come from the

crocodile, and he looked behind him swiftly. They he realised

that he was doing it himself, and in a flash he understood the

situation. "How clever of me!" he thought at once, and signed

to the boys not to burst into applause.

It was at this moment that Ed Teynte the quartermaster emerged

from the forecastle and came along the deck. Now, reader, time

what happened by your watch. Peter struck true and deep. John

clapped his hands on the ill-fated pirate's mouth to stifle the

dying groan. He fell forward. Four boys caught him to prevent

the thud. Peter gave the signal, and the carrion was cast

overboard. There was a splash, and then silence. How long has

it taken?

"One!" (Slightly had begun to count.)

None too soon, Peter, every inch of him on tiptoe, vanished

into the cabin; for more than one pirate was screwing up his

courage to look round. They could hear each other's distressed

breathing now, which showed them that the more terrible sound had


"It's gone, captain," Smee said, wiping off his spectacles.

"All's still again."

Slowly Hook let his head emerge from his ruff, and listened so

intently that he could have caught the echo of the tick. There

was not a sound, and he drew himself up firmly to his full height.

"Then here's to Johnny Plank!" he cried brazenly, hating the

boys more than ever because they had seen him unbend. He broke

into the villainous ditty:

"Yo ho, yo ho, the frisky plank,

You walks along it so,

Till it goes down and you goes down

To Davy Jones below!"

To terrorize the prisoners the more, though with a certain loss

of dignity, he danced along an imaginary plank, grimacing at them

as he sang; and when he finished he cried, "Do you want a touch

of the cat [`o nine tails] before you walk the plank?"

At that they fell on their knees. "No, no!" they cried so

piteously that every pirate smiled.

"Fetch the cat, Jukes," said Hook; "it's in the cabin."

The cabin! Peter was in the cabin! The children gazed at each other.

"Ay, ay," said Jukes blithely, and he strode into the cabin.

They followed him with their eyes; they scarce knew that Hook had

resumed his song, his dogs joining in with him:

"Yo ho, yo ho, the scratching cat,

Its tails are nine, you know,

And when they're writ upon your back -- "

What was the last line will never be known, for of a sudden the

song was stayed by a dreadful screech from the cabin. It wailed

through the ship, and died away. Then was heard a crowing sound

which was well understood by the boys, but to the pirates was

almost more eerie than the screech.

"What was that?" cried Hook.

"Two," said Slightly solemnly.

The Italian Cecco hesitated for a moment and then swung into

the cabin. He tottered out, haggard.

"What's the matter with Bill Jukes, you dog?" hissed Hook,

towering over him.

"The matter wi' him is he's dead, stabbed," replied Cecco in a

hollow voice.

"Bill Jukes dead!" cried the startled pirates.

"The cabin's as black as a pit," Cecco said, almost gibbering,

"but there is something terrible in there: the thing you heard crowing."

The exultation of the boys, the lowering looks of the pirates,

both were seen by Hook.

"Cecco," he said in his most steely voice, "go back and fetch

me out that doodle-doo."

Cecco, bravest of the brave, cowered before his captain, crying

"No, no"; but Hook was purring to his claw.

"Did you say you would go, Cecco?" he said musingly.

Cecco went, first flinging his arms despairingly. There was no

more singing, all listened now; and again came a death-screech

and again a crow.

No one spoke except Slightly. "Three," he said.

Hook rallied his dogs with a gesture. "'S'death and odds

fish," he thundered, "who is to bring me that doodle-doo?"

"Wait till Cecco comes out," growled Starkey, and the others took

up the cry.

"I think I heard you volunteer, Starkey," said Hook, purring again.

"No, by thunder!" Starkey cried.

"My hook thinks you did," said Hook, crossing to him. "I

wonder if it would not be advisable, Starkey, to humour the hook?"

"I'll swing before I go in there," replied Starkey doggedly,

and again he had the support of the crew.

"Is this mutiny?" asked Hook more pleasantly than ever.

"Starkey's ringleader!"

"Captain, mercy!" Starkey whimpered, all of a tremble now.

"Shake hands, Starkey," said Hook, proffering his claw.

Starkey looked round for help, but all deserted him. As he

backed up Hook advanced, and now the red spark was in his eye.

With a despairing scream the pirate leapt upon Long Tom and

precipitated himself into the sea.

"Four," said Slightly.

"And now," Hook said courteously, "did any other gentlemen say

mutiny?" Seizing a lantern and raising his claw with a menacing

gesture, "I'll bring out that doodle-doo myself," he said, and

sped into the cabin.

"Five." How Slightly longed to say it. He wetted his lips to

be ready, but Hook came staggering out, without his lantern.

"Something blew out the light," he said a little unsteadily.

"Something!" echoed Mullins.

"What of Cecco?" demanded Noodler.

"He's as dead as Jukes," said Hook shortly.

His reluctance to return to the cabin impressed them all

unfavourably, and the mutinous sounds again broke forth. All

pirates are superstitious, and Cookson cried, "They do say the

surest sign a ship's accurst is when there's one on board more

than can be accounted for."

"I've heard," muttered Mullins, "he always boards the pirate

craft last. Had he a tail, captain?"

"They say," said another, looking viciously at Hook, "that when

he comes it's in the likeness of the wickedest man aboard."

"Had he a hook, captain?" asked Cookson insolently; and one

after another took up the cry, "The ship's doomed!" At this the

children could not resist raising a cheer. Hook had well-nigh

forgotten his prisoners, but as he swung round on them now his

face lit up again.

"Lads," he cried to his crew, "now here's a notion. Open the

cabin door and drive them in. Let them fight the doodle-doo for

their lives. If they kill him, we're so much the better; if he

kills them, we're none the worse."

For the last time his dogs admired Hook, and devotedly they did

his bidding. The boys, pretending to struggle, were pushed into

the cabin and the door was closed on them.

"Now, listen!" cried Hook, and all listened. But not one dared

to face the door. Yes, one, Wendy, who all this time had been

bound to the mast. It was for neither a scream nor a crow that

she was watching, it was for the reappearance of Peter.

She had not long to wait. In the cabin he had found the thing

for which he had gone in search: the key the would free the

children of their manacles, and now they all stole forth, armed

with such weapons as they could find. First signing them to

hide, Peter cut Wendy's bonds, and then nothing could have been

easier than for them all to fly off together; but one thing

barred the way, an oath, "Hook or me this time." So when he had

freed Wendy, he whispered for to her to conceal herself with the

others, and himself took her place by the mast, her cloak around

him so that he should pass for her. Then he took a great breath

and crowed.

To the pirates it was a voice crying that all the boys lay

slain in the cabin; and they were panic-stricken. Hook tried to

hearten them; but like the dogs he had made them they showed him

their fangs, and he knew that if he took his eyes off them now

they would leap at him.

"Lads," he said, ready to cajole or strike as need be, but

never quailing for an instant, "I've thought it out. There's a

Jonah aboard."

"Ay," they snarled, "a man wi' a hook."

"No, lads, no, it's the girl. Never was luck on a pirate ship

wi' a woman on board. We'll right the ship when she's gone."

Some of them remembered that this had been a saying of

Flint's. "It's worth trying," they said doubtfully.

"Fling the girl overboard," cried Hook; and they made a rush at

the figure in the cloak.

"There's none can save you now, missy," Mullins hissed jeeringly.

"There's one," replied the figure.

"Who's that?"

"Peter Pan the avenger!" came the terrible answer; and as he

spoke Peter flung off his cloak. Then they all knew who 'twas

that had been undoing them in the cabin, and twice Hook essayed

to speak and twice he failed. In that frightful moment I think

his fierce heart broke.

At last he cried, "Cleave him to the brisket!" but without conviction.

"Down, boys, and at them!" Peter's voice rang out; and in

another moment the clash of arms was resounding through the ship.

Had the pirates kept together it is certain that they would have

won; but the onset came when they were still unstrung, and they

ran hither and thither, striking wildly, each thinking himself

the last survivor of the crew. Man to man they were the

stronger; but they fought on the defensive only, which enabled

the boys to hunt in pairs and choose their quarry. Some of the

miscreants leapt into the sea; others hid in dark recesses, where

they were found by Slightly, who did not fight, but ran about

with a lantern which he flashed in their faces, so that they were

half blinded and fell as an easy prey to the reeking swords of

the other boys. There was little sound to be heard but the clang

of weapons, an occasional screech or splash, and Slightly

monotonously counting -- five -- six -- seven -- eight -- nine --

ten -- eleven.

I think all were gone when a group of savage boys surrounded

Hook, who seemed to have a charmed life, as he kept them at bay

in that circle of fire. They had done for his dogs, but this man

alone seemed to be a match for them all. Again and again they

closed upon him, and again and again he hewed a clear space. He

had lifted up one boy with his hook, and was using him as a

buckler [shield], when another, who had just passed his sword

through Mullins, sprang into the fray.

"Put up your swords, boys," cried the newcomer, "this man is mine."

Thus suddenly Hook found himself face to face with Peter. The

others drew back and formed a ring around them.

For long the two enemies looked at one another, Hook shuddering

slightly, and Peter with the strange smile upon his face.

"So, Pan," said Hook at last, "this is all your doing."

"Ay, James Hook," came the stern answer, "it is all my doing."

"Proud and insolent youth," said Hook, "prepare to meet thy doom."

"Dark and sinister man," Peter answered, " have at thee."

Without more words they fell to, and for a space there was no

advantage to either blade. Peter was a superb swordsman, and

parried with dazzling rapidity; ever and anon he followed up a

feint with a lunge that got past his foe's defence, but his

shorter reach stood him in ill stead, and he could not drive the

steel home. Hook, scarcely his inferior in brilliancy, but not

quite so nimble in wrist play, forced him back by the weight of

his onset, hoping suddenly to end all with a favourite thrust,

taught him long ago by Barbecue at Rio; but to his astonishment he

found this thrust turned aside again and again. Then he sought to

close and give the quietus with his iron hook, which all this time

had been pawing the air; but Peter doubled under it and, lunging

fiercely, pierced him in the ribs. At the sight of his own blood,

whose peculiar colour, you remember, was offensive to him,

the sword fell from Hook's hand, and he was at Peter's mercy.

"Now!" cried all the boys, but with a magnificent gesture Peter

invited his opponent to pick up his sword. Hook did so instantly,

but with a tragic feeling that Peter was showing good form.

Hitherto he had thought it was some fiend fighting him, but

darker suspicions assailed him now.

"Pan, who and what art thou?" he cried huskily.

"I'm youth, I'm joy," Peter answered at a venture, "I'm a

little bird that has broken out of the egg."

This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy

Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was,

which is the very pinnacle of good form.

"To't again," he cried despairingly.

He fought now like a human flail, and every sweep of that

terrible sword would have severed in twain any man or boy who

obstructed it; but Peter fluttered round him as if the very wind

it made blew him out of the danger zone. And again and again he

darted in and pricked.

Hook was fighting now without hope. That passionate breast no

longer asked for life; but for one boon it craved: to see Peter

show bad form before it was cold forever.

Abandoning the fight he rushed into the powder magazine and fired it.

"In two minutes," he cried, "the ship will be blown to pieces."

Now, now, he thought, true form will show.

But Peter issued from the powder magazine with the shell in his

hands, and calmly flung it overboard.

What sort of form was Hook himself showing? Misguided man

though he was, we may be glad, without sympathising with him,

that in the end he was true to the traditions of his race. The

other boys were flying around him now, flouting, scornful; and he

staggered about the deck striking up at them impotently, his mind

was no longer with them; it was slouching in the playing fields

of long ago, or being sent up [to the headmaster] for good, or

watching the wall-game from a famous wall. And his shoes were

right, and his waistcoat was right, and his tie was right, and

his socks were right.

James Hook, thou not wholly unheroic figure, farewell.

For we have come to his last moment.

Seeing Peter slowly advancing upon him through the air with

dagger poised, he sprang upon the bulwarks to cast himself into

the sea. He did not know that the crocodile was waiting for

him; for we purposely stopped the clock that this knowledge might

be spared him: a little mark of respect from us at the end.

He had one last triumph, which I think we need not grudge him.

As he stood on the bulwark looking over his shoulder at Peter

gliding through the air, he invited him with a gesture to use his

foot. It made Peter kick instead of stab.

At last Hook had got the boon for which he craved.

"Bad form," he cried jeeringly, and went content to the crocodile.

Thus perished James Hook.

"Seventeen," Slightly sang out; but he was not quite correct in

his figures. Fifteen paid the penalty for their crimes that

night; but two reached the shore: Starkey to be captured by the

redskins, who made him nurse for all their papooses, a melancholy

come-down for a pirate; and Smee, who henceforth wandered about

the world in his spectacles, making a precarious living by saying

he was the only man that Jas. Hook had feared.

Wendy, of course, had stood by taking no part in the fight,

though watching Peter with glistening eyes; but now that all was

over she became prominent again. She praised them equally, and

shuddered delightfully when Michael showed her the place where he

had killed one; and then she took them into Hook's cabin and

pointed to his watch which was hanging on a nail. It said "half-

past one!"

The lateness of the hour was almost the biggest thing of all.

She got them to bed in the pirates' bunks pretty quickly, you may

be sure; all but Peter, who strutted up and down on the deck,

until at last he fell asleep by the side of Long Tom. He had one

of his dreams that night, and cried in his sleep for a long time,

and Wendy held him tightly.



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